Looking back at my 35 year old self – #6

In 2013, I spent a term of studies in Nanjing, supported by a Hamer Scholarship. This was a transformative experience, and a moment to pause and reflect after an intense early period of migration. At the end of that year, I wrote down a series of journal entries, one-per-day, capturing my thoughts. COVID gave me the chance to revisit them: I was somewhat moved at meeting a younger version of myself. Now that I near the end of my PhD and a major book, and begin a new major venture in green energy, I realised patterns and struggles remained oddly similar. So, I thought I might share this journal here over the coming weeks – who knows, it might resonate with someone, trigger a useful insight, or just a passing moment of self-compassion.

20 decembee

I’m just back from a party. I hadn’t stayed out partying till after midnight for a very long time – and even if I didn’t follow on to the ‘1912’ district, to drink and dance more, I still had a great time. It was good: mixed ethnically, gay-friendly, smart: I felt comfortable. Still, at times, I had to say – this party needs more Latin gay men.

So, if I liked it so much, why do I party so little? Why have I adopted this puritanical attitude to bars, alcohol, loud environments? Have I always been like that?

Looking back, I have enjoyed partying. I did go to clubs in high school – rarely, but I did – and then danced, and had fun – possibly more than others. It all stopped when I moved to Paris at 18.

Those were the worst two years of my life. Not coming out, working too much in preparatory class, and miserable at home. So, once I got into Ecole Normale at 20, I was afraid that, if I was to start going out, I would lose what I fought so much to win. Puritanical attachment to whatever relief I had gotten through work. And so, I couldn’t let go of that stress I had accumulated.

Also, clubs and bars are sexualized environments, and I’d been in a couple since I was 17. I didn’t want to go to clubs and bars, so that I could ‘stay faithful’ – and didn’t feel the need to go to get sex. This remained true later: I had the pleasure of life in a couple – bars and clubs may be more suited to single people?

I did sometimes go gay- clubbing, in Dublin I did; in Paris I did. Even in Melbourne, rarely. Sometimes, I would come back depressed; others, with a deep sense of relaxation – any tension had been pushed off through dance, sweat, alcohol. I had released something deep, purged. And I could start again.

On sexualised puritanism

Midsumma is the Melbourne Gay and Lesbian Festival. Yesterday was one of their feature events, Carnival, a big get together day along the Yarra River, with music, food, and community stalls.

It is unclear, however, what Carnival is exactly designed to be. Right after the entrance, I walked into people in black singlets playing volleyball among a circle of stalls for Gay and Lesbian sports groups. I greeted a friend from the ‘Glamourheads swim team’, and walked across the centre lawn. Blaring sun, no shade. From the main stage, a cover band played a loud piece of doof doof dance music. On the way, I passed a small group of men in skimpy swimsuits, with the words ‘naked men fest’ written on their bodies.

Past the skateboard rink, the corporate and community stalls started: Coles, PWC, Dykes on Bikes, and three different animal protection groups. People pushed leaflets and showbags into my hands. ‘Are you interested in getting a job?’ Someone asked. At an HIV stand, somebody took a photograph with a hunk in a red cape and white underwear saying ‘no glove, no love’.

It was all very teasing, I was hoping to see some action – a handjob workshop, Kink DIY practice, an orgy tent – or at least some proper nudity. But there was none of it, no touching, no sex on premises. Carnival is family friendly. Yet again, there were not many families, nor many women either. Mostly white men with frustrated expressions.

As I walked back along the main alley, heading back home, I passed a man in a black t-shirt and two young Asian women holding white ‘Colgate’ plastic bags. “Oh, toothpaste!” I said, “Why are you handing toothpaste at a gay festival?  Should I brush before or after the blow job then?” They were not amused. “No, we’re a gay-owned dental clinic – some people find it more comfortable.”